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Creative Creative Works My Creative Career

My Creative Career: Liz Taylor, global chief creative officer at Ogilvy

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By Amy Houston, Senior Reporter

May 17, 2023 | 10 min read

As part of our My Creative Career series, Taylor talks about almost becoming a lawyer, world-changing work and the Steve Martin quote she lives by.

Liz Taylor

Liz Taylor, global chief creative officer at Ogilvy / Ogilvy

Over an almost-30 years career, Liz Taylor has racked up many awards but her first accolade came when she was around 12 years old for a book writing contest. Her winning story was about a young girl heading off to a summer camp. “I got the bug,” she says. “I felt like I could tell stories and create characters. Move people in different ways. Make ’em laugh, make ’em cry. It was a pivotal moment.”

She's always felt creative but didn’t have a name for it in her early life which was filled with singing and dancing, putting on shows as part of the local theater club. She attended art classes, too. Family life was typical, her parents owned a jewelry store and were fairly traditional, in Taylor’s eyes. “I grew up in an upper-class community where people were lawyers, accountants and doctors. Successful, but not all creative,” she explains. “My brother was a success to me. He did what you were supposed to do.”

Following in his academic footsteps, Taylor majored in English, creative writing and literature at university, and was all set to go to law school. At the time, legal shows were all over TV. The courtrooms looked dramatic and cool, and her theatrical background may have helped her recite epic speeches and help the needy. It was settled. She would go to California in the fall to pursue her high-powered shoulder-padded suit dreams, that was until her brother pulled her aside one day. “What are you doing? It’s going to suck out your creativity,” he questioned. “You think it’s like LA Law. You need to do something creative.”

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Around her dorm room, the walls were adorned with Nike and Absolut ads, she wondered how people did that. Who made these posters? These brands. Taylor admits she had absolutely no idea about advertising but filled with the confidence of youth she cold-called Leo Burnett in Chicago. “I’m an old lady, this is before the internet,” she laughs. “There was no way to Google how to get into advertising.”

Luckily, someone picked up.

“How do I get a job making ads?” Taylor remembers asking the woman. “Let me transfer you to the creative department,” the receptionist answered immediately. As fate had it, the agency was having a portfolio showcase evening the following night and they invited her to come along.

“I thought it was an interview, I went and bought a suit. I had no idea what I was doing,” she remembers fondly. “I walk into Leo Burnett the next day and there were Nerf guns and music and it was like the heavens opened up and sang to me. I felt like I was home.” The suit was quickly ditched.

The exec hosts chatted about how they hired talent from ad schools, so Taylor called one and applied. “I had an amazing mom. I told her that it would cost the same as law school, but I wouldn’t get a degree, but she said to me that I had to do it,” she reflects, self-deprecatingly noting that her mother gave her the confidence that far outweighed her talent. She was her greatest wingman. “So, I went there, met my husband and the rest is history.”

Thank goodness that person answered the phone, the creative adds. The stars were aligned, and Taylor did go on to study advertising. She might not have gone to law school, but, as she puts it, she’s changing laws with creativity now.

Her first taste of agency life came in New York, working as a copywriter for J Walter Thompson (JWT). “Go where you’re loved and valued. I interviewed at a lot of places, there were lots of creative boutiques at the time,” she says. “I was interested in them creatively but felt there was a bit of ‘you’ll be lucky if you work here’ and it made me uncomfortable.”

At JWT, Taylor met a group of like-minded creatives, and the first assignment was a million-dollar TV commercial, which she acknowledges, is a little unheard of. You get a sense that Taylor is proud of that original team, and with good reason. Tom Kuntz would go on to become an acclaimed film director; Tom Murphy landed the role of creative chief at Wunderman Thompson North America after a long stint at McCann; and Thomas Hayo who worked on BBH’s Levi’s account. She still thinks and talks about them often.

“It was competitive, amazing and I still love going in every day to be surrounded by creative souls. Solving problems and doing the best work,” Taylor adds. “I still feel like a kid. I feel very lucky to do what I do.”

Work ethic is something the creative prides herself on, something she grew up seeing in her own mother, who will forever be her biggest mentor. In the industry, Taylor credits Dennis Ryan who was her boss for many years. He was a writer and taught her the valuable lesson that it doesn’t matter if you’re on your 25th revision, if that’s the one that goes out into the world it has to be amazing. “This was at a time where there weren’t a lot of women,” continues Taylor. “I worked on Gatorade for years and some men that ran that business did not want me on it.”

A huge sports fan, Ryan knew that Taylor would excel on that account, and he made sure she was on it. He looked at talent, hunger and craft.

Joe Sciarotta, her deputy at Ogilvy, has been a constant throughout her career, especially when it comes to learning leadership skills. “He taught me how the business works, how to avoid politics and was setting me up to be a chief creative officer,” says Taylor. “If I was on stage at Cannes, he was the first one standing applauding.”

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Using the power of creativity for good is what drives the Ogilvy boss. She highlights the work ‘Morning After Island’. which advocated for women’s birth control rights in Honduras and her anti-gun campaign ‘The Lost Class’ made while at Leo Burnett. For the past 10 years, Taylor has made some form of gun control work. It’s personal, she adds.

The ad that she believes changed the trajectory of her career was for the air freshener brand Glade from 2016. “That was your grandma’s candle and we repositioned it,” she explains. “We encouraged the client to create an experience, which was unbranded until the last room. It was very brave.” We make entertainment, we sell things and change the world, she adds. This project encompassed it all.

With a demanding career that includes so many of her passions, Taylor has always juggled being a working mum. Raising her kids in Chicago, she credits her husband as being a fantastic partner. “It’s hard to be a working mum in this industry,” she confessed. “It’s a lot of travel and late nights.”

To people looking to get into the advertising business, she concludes by quoting some advice from legendary actor Steve Martin that she has always lived by: “Be so good that they can’t ignore you.”

Like this story? Read our interview with Neale Horrigan, executive creative director at Elvis.

Creative Creative Works My Creative Career

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